Sharks

Three takeaways: Sharks not concerned about potential rematch

Three takeaways: Sharks not concerned about potential rematch

SAN JOSE – There wasn’t a whole lot of action in the Sharks-Blues game at SAP Center on Thursday. That’s usually a good sign for the road team, and it was in this case, too, as St. Louis claimed a convincing 4-1 win. 

Still, we can find a few topics to discuss in our three takeaways…

1 – Worried about a potential rematch?

There’s a decent chance the Sharks and Blues will get to rematch their Western Conference Final series from a year ago in the first round. If San Jose surpasses the Wild and Blackhawks and gets the top seed, or the Blues move up to the first wild card position, it would make it much more likely.

Should the Sharks be worried about that, considering they were handled fairly easily by the Blues in the three-game season series?

“I’m not concerned about it,” Pete DeBoer said. “We’ll deal with that if we get them in the playoffs. I think if you go two games back we’re not very good, if you go the last 10 games against them we’re pretty good against them. I’m not worried about it.”

The Blues are surely doing something right against the Sharks. Since Jan. 1, two of San Jose's three lowest shot totals have been against St. Louis, including 23 shots on Jan. 14 (a 4-0 loss) and just 20 on Thursday, tied for a season-low.

Paul Martin said: “The last time we played them (on Jan. 14) was awhile ago, and two different teams I think from last time, but definitely we were not happy with our performance or the way we’ve been playing against them. We were off tonight, we didn’t have one of or better games, obviously. They did the job of bottling us up and not giving up a whole lot.”

2 – Burns going cold

It’s now been 11 games since Brent Burns has scored a goal, despite his registering 43 shots since Feb. 19. He still leads the Sharks with 70 points, but that’s now tied for seventh in the league, nine behind leaders Connor McDavid and Brad Marchand. He’s also just seven points ahead of Erik Karlsson for the NHL lead in scoring among defensemen, too. Is the Norris Trophy still a lock?

More concerning, though, is that Burns hasn’t been all that effective in his own end lately and is making some curious decisions with the puck and with his positioning. While Thursday’s game was a team loss – as we mention below, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun weren’t any better in terms of defensemen – it was Burns’ unforced turnover to Scottie Upshall in the neutral zone led to the Blues’ first score.

"When you pick off a pass from the best defenseman in the league," Upshall told the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "and make them pay for it, it's a big added bonus for your team, so it was a big goal for us to get us going."

As the team’s most important player now, Burns’ game will be something to monitor over the next little while. 

3 – Tarasenko takes over

One of the biggest reasons that the Sharks got past the Blues in six games last season was keeping Vladimir Tarasenko under wraps. That didn’t happen on Thursday, as the Blues’ forward registered a game-high eight shots and 12 shot attempts while recording a power play goal and an empty netter.

His line, with Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny, was dominant while skating mostly against the Sharks’ top shutdown pair of Vlasic and Braun, as Stastny had five shots and Schwartz another two.

Blues coach Mike Yeo like his team’s game overall, as it responded from Wednesday’s loss in Anaheim.

"I thought we competed at a real high level tonight,” coach Mike Yeo told reporters. “Right from the drop of the puck, guys were paying a price for each other.”

Erik Karlsson skates with Sharks for the first time

Erik Karlsson skates with Sharks for the first time

SAN JOSE -- Erik Karlsson was not the first player on the ice at Sharks training camp Wednesday morning. That’s understandable, since the Swedish defenseman arrived in the Bay Area around 10 p.m. Tuesday evening, and practiced with his new club for the first time around 12 hours later. 

How did Karlsson’s new teammates welcome him to the locker room?

“I said ‘hi’ to him,” Sharks defenseman Brent Burns cracked to reporters Wednesday. “There were no balloons, or cakes or anything. I think we know kind of how hard it is for a guy like that, or for anybody.

“You try to make him feel welcome, but also give him a break, too, because I think it’s going to be crazy for him.”

It wasn’t always clear when Karlsson would join his new team. The Sharks acquired the 28-year-old in a massive trade with the Ottawa Senators last Thursday, but he still had immigration issues to sort through after moving from a Canadian franchise to an American one. 

Head coach Peter DeBoer didn’t expect Karlsson to join the team until the end of the week, and captain Joe Pavelski said the Sharks got word the defenseman could have joined the team Wednesday, or possibly even later. 

But those concerns went away when the two-time Norris Trophy winner finally stepped on to the ice. 

“I think we’ll keep him,” DeBoer said. “He’s a world-class player. When you add players with skill and speed like that to our group, it energizes them too. Good players want to play with good players. I thought the energy level of the whole group was up today because of his presence, and he came as advertised.”

Karlsson constantly chatted with his new teammates. Whether stretching, between drills, or in the locker room, it was rare to see him alone. Fellow defenseman Justin Braun explained an early transition drill, and assistant coach Rob Zettler skated over to speak with Karlsson during, and after, another one. 

The Sharks that did not skate in Tuesday night’s preseason game practiced with Karlsson Wednesday morning, while those that did skated later on. Marc-Edouard Vlasic did not play in that game, and he skated alongside his new teammate for the majority of the session -- although DeBoer was quick to say afterwards that it’s too early to know whether they will end up playing with one another. 

DeBoer gave the fans in attendance a glimpse at another possibility: Burns and Karlsson playing alongside one another in three-on-three overtime. The duo skated with Pavelski during a full-rink scrimmage at the end of practice, and Burns buried Karlsson’s backdoor pass to conclude the session. 

Pavelski said having Karlsson join the Sharks towards the beginning of camp allows the team to enter the season on the same page. 

“It’s great for us,” Pavelski said. “Our group is set, and we get to spend some time in these [preseason] games, then he’s not trying to play catch-up by any means. It’s always nice to get as many pieces as you can together and get an earlier start just so you’re comfortable. 

“When you get here early enough, it’s nice to be able to hit those stages all at once, blend it together and get up to speed.”

It’s not likely that Karlsson will play in Thursday’s preseason game in Anaheim. DeBoer said the coaching staff is still focused on evaluating some of the young players in camp, and they’ll map out the remaining four games afterward. 

Karlsson still has details to learn as he gets up to speed and acclimated to his new team. That includes his apparel on the ice, and off of it: Burns noted than in addition to getting used to his new gear, Karlsson came to the rink wearing long pants on a day with temperatures sitting in the 70s.

“That’s probably going to be the last day,” he quipped

Other than that, the Sharks don’t feel like they need to give their newest defenseman too much instruction.

“I think with the type of player he is, he’s just going to find his own way [even] if you told him nothing,” Pavelski said. “He’ll just play hockey, and we’ll give some structure. … With the skill set he has, I believe he’ll adjust pretty quickly.”

Erik Karlsson: New Sharks defenseman explained in four key stats

Erik Karlsson: New Sharks defenseman explained in four key stats

The moment has arrived. After almost a week of waiting, Wednesday marks the beginning of defenseman Erik Karlsson’s time with the Sharks.  

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has made it clear he wants to lock up the Swedish superstar for a long time, and the Sharks have emerged as one of the league’s most intriguing teams after acquiring the two-time Norris Trophy winner. 

So what, exactly, is all the hubbub about? Here a four stats and figures that describe just what kind of player he is. 

96

Since entering the league in 2009, that’s how many more points Karlsson has scored than the next closest defenseman, Florida Panthers blueliner Keith Yandle. In fact, Karlsson’s 518 points through his first nine NHL seasons are more than all but 10 defensemen in league history. One of those 10? Doug Wilson.

That’s impressive, regardless of context, but it’s worth remembering that Karlsson plays in a much different era than those ahead of him. Goaltending is better right now than it’s ever been, indicated by the fact that each of Karlsson’s nine NHL seasons rank in the top-12 by average save percentage. When you adjust for era, the start of Karlsson’s career is even more impressive.

Among defensemen in their first nine seasons, Karlsson ranks fifth in Hockey Reference’s adjusted points (576). He’s third in adjusted assists (431), only behind Bobby Orr (593) and Paul Coffey (477). In other words: Karlsson is a generational offensive talent. 

114

There is, perhaps, no better number to encapsulate Karlsson’s unique combination of vision and playmaking ability. 114 is approximately how many feet this saucer pass traveled off of Karlsson’s stick and into the path of a wide-open Mike Hoffman during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

That was the last time Karlsson and the Senators made the playoffs, finishing a double-overtime goal away from facing the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final. Playing on an ankle that ultimately required offseason surgery, Karlsson led Ottawa with 18 points in 19 games, 13 of which came at even strength.

After a disastrous season, both Hoffman and Karlsson are no longer in Ottawa. The Sharks briefly acquired Hoffman this summer, and flipped him to the Florida Panthers hours later. The trades came days after the Ottawa Citizen reported that Karlsson’s wife, Melinda, filed an order of protection after Hoffman’s fiancee allegedly harassed her repeatedly online. 

Plus-4.35 

243 defenseman have logged 3000, five-on-five minutes since the start of the 2009-10 season. Of that group, only five players have posted a better adjusted corsi-for percentage relative to their teammates than Karlsson’s mark of plus-4.35, according to Corsica Hockey.

What does that mean? When Karlsson was on the ice, the Senators attempted 52.05 percent of the shots. When his teammates were on the ice without him, that number fell to 48.7 percent. 4.35, then, is the difference in those percentages, and its positive value means his teammates attempted a smaller share of shots when they weren't playing with him.

The gap was especially stark in Karlsson’s last season in the Canadian capital. Last season, Ottawa just about broke even with him on the ice, and attempted 49.68 percent of the shots. Meanwhile, the Senators attempted only 44.9 percent of the shots without him. That latter mark would have been dead-last out of 31 teams in the league last year. 

33.98

Sharks defenseman Brent Burns is also a Norris Trophy winner (2017), and since the bearded blueliner moved back to the position in 2014-15, only Karlsson (281) has scored more points (278). This number equals their combined shot attempts per hour of five-on-five play over that span. 

Burns ranks first (20.06) by the metric among defenseman (min. 1000 minutes) during that time, while Karlsson (13.86) ranks sixth, per Corsica Hockey. No two defenseman on the same team (as of this writing) eclipse that combined total. 

The Sharks, for reference, attempted 58.49 five-on-five shots per hour over the last four seasons. Plugging in Karlsson doesn’t mean San Jose will attempt nearly 14 more shots per 60 minutes, but it does mean they’ll be able to rely on the two blueliners to put a lot of pucks on net this season.

On Wednesday, be sure to watch Erik Karlsson’s first practice with the Sharks at approximately 10:30 a.m., streaming live at facebook.com/nbcsauthentic. At 3 p.m., tune into Karlsson’s introductory press conference on NBC Sports California and also streaming live at facebook.com/nbcsauthentic.